The impetus for Sunday’s Designated Hitter column in The Sanford Herald was a comment made by Southern Lee basketball coach Chris Cherry, who said following his team’s 101-60 destruction of Overhills on Friday night that he realizes that he keeps telling me the same thing after every game, but that he can’t get away from it.
Cherry is amazed at how hard his kids play consistently night-in, night-out, and that they do the same thing in practice, so much so that he has to tone it down once in a while to keep them from expending too much energy in the days before the state tournament.
It’s evident in the way they are playing right now that the Cavaliers do come to play every single day — not just every game. They seem to be peaking now, they are more cohesive offensively and their defense is going to be unlike any most teams they face in the tournament have ever seen.
And that’s what led to Sunday’s column, where though I know I was never lazy about it, I never left everything on the floor in my practices when I was in high school. I have few regrets, but this is one of them.
Here’s the column:
Go to practice, and enjoy it
There are days when I wish I could got back to high school for a moment.
There are also days when I wish I could block the vast majority of my high school memories from my mind forever.
But in those nostalgic moments, I go back to the games. Well, not even the games really. I go back to the practices, each and every one of them, and I wish I could have them all back.
Line ’em up, one right after another. That would be fine. My body wouldn’t be able to handle it, I’m sure, but beggars can’t be choosers. I’d take what I could get.
It doesn’t matter what practice it is. Basketball. Baseball. Golf. I want them back. God, do I want them back.
I was never a good athlete. Never. Sure, I made a few all-star teams growing up through the rec leagues, but even then, I was at the end of the bench or banished to left field and deep in the order when that season rolled around. I was never “The Guy” on any of the teams I played on, and rarely even in the pickup games at the park or in a friend’s driveway.
But I’m not looking for that. I can live without being a star. I know that now, and maybe, rather unfortunately, I knew that then. All too well, probably. Maybe that dose of reality came too easily to me, and maybe it’s what held me back, what leaves me with one of the few regrets I hold in my very lucky life.
And so I wouldn’t mind a quick trip back. I don’t want to deal with the exams, the cliques, the naivete or the drama that comes with the awkward high school years. But I want my practices back.
I can remember going to a youth basketball camp when I was a kid, a camp run by the local high school coach. And I can remember my dad telling me that he didn’t care whether I came home with the Most Valuable Player award. But I better come home with the Hustle award. Even then, not even a teenager, my limitations were likely already in place. But my effort never was. I didn’t know about the limitations then, but I did know effort. I could hustle. I came home with that award, and that memory — along with everything I did to win that award — still sticks with me today. There must be a reason why.
I could tell myself now that it was clear that I wasn’t the best ballplayer or golfer in the school, and while it’s the truth, it’s unfortunately an excuse, too. Maybe it was a subconscious thing, and maybe I’m beating myself up too much about it more than a decade later, but I know today I could’ve tried harder. I could’ve worked harder.
I may not have been better, but when you’re a few years down the road, scrubs like me don’t have the big shot memory to fall back on. We need the smaller victories, the ones that are near and dear only to us. But when you know that you still could’ve hit a thousand more balls on the range, that just because it’s raining doesn’t mean you couldn’t at least taken BP, that changing the mechanics of the jump shot should’ve come more than a month before tryouts, there’s not much left to hang the cleats on.
Days and weeks and months and years later, small increments of improvement don’t matter. It’s knowing that you never gave in. What hurts is realizing that you knew then that your playing days were finite, and yet you still didn’t get everything you could’ve gotten out of them.
Something was there. Something was left behind.
And it’s gone.
Those of you still playing, don’t let this happen to you.
Because it could. Ask any one of us.